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A video showing the beheading of an American in Iraq was posted on
an al-Qaeda-linked web site, a gruesome killing which Islamic
militants claimed was carried out to avenge the abuse of Iraqi
detainees by US troops.
The American general who authored a damning report on US troops'
mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib told a congressional
panel Tuesday meanwhile there was no evidence of a policy or direct
order for the misconduct.
Major General Antonio Taguba spoke in Washington as the head of
Iraq's war crimes tribunal said ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein
would be handed over to Iraq before the country's sovereignty is
restored on June 30.
In other key developments, US President George W Bush slapped
sanctions on Syria, partly for "undermining" US efforts in Iraq, as
wanted Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr offered to end his rebellion in
Iraq if the US-led coalition agreed to talks.
The bloodshed continued as a US soldier was killed in Iraq's
Al-Anbar province and US forces said they had killed 13 members of
"We did not find any evidence of a policy or a direct order given
to these soldiers," General Taguba said in testimony to the Senate
Armed Services Committee, as the fallout from photos showing US
soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees continued.
"I believe that they did it on their own volition and I believe
that they collaborated with several (military intelligence)
interrogators at the lower level" he said. "We didn't find any
order whatsoever, written or otherwise, that directed them to do
what they did."
Vice President Dick Cheney said that a "fundamental breakdown" had
led to the Iraqi prison abuse by US troops but defended the
military response to the scandal.
A group of senators will view unpublished photos of US soldiers
abusing Iraqi prisoners on Wednesday, according to Republican
Senator John Warner.
The head of Iraq's war crimes panel, Salam Chalabi, said at Kuwait
airport that Saddam will go on trial early next year with scores of
his closest henchmen.
"We have a hundred detainees (who were) senior leaders of the
former regime, including Saddam Hussein, Tareq Aziz and Ali Hasan
al-Majid," Chalabi said.
Bush in a statement accused Syria of "supporting terrorism,
continuing its occupation of Lebanon, pursuing weapons of mass
destruction and missile programs, and undermining US and
international efforts with respect to the stabilization and
reconstruction of Iraq."
The new sanctions include a freeze on certain Syrian assets in the
US and limits on exports of goods, including weaponry.
Speaking to the press in Damascus, Syrian Prime Minister Mohammed
Naji Otri labelled the sanctions "unjust and unjustified."
Meanwhile, Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, offered to end his
insurgency if the US-led coalition agreed to negotiations,
according to leaflets handed out by his office in the central holy
Iraqi city of Najaf.
"I am ready to end everything if the occupation forces officially
ask for negotiations on condition that these negotiations are just
and transparent and under the stewardship of the Shiite religious
authorities," said a statement signed by Sadr.
His banned Mehdi Army militia has suffered heavy losses during
running battles with US-led troops in the capital Baghdad and in
central Shiite cities.
US forces said they killed 13 members of Sadr's militia in a clash
outside Kufa near the holy city of Najaf.
However, the US inquiry into events at Abu Ghraib prison outside
Baghdad, which has revealed shocking photos of Iraqis being
sexually humiliated and abused by US soldiers, continued to stir
concern around the globe.
Taguba, who submitted his findings to the Pentagon in January, said
"failure in leadership, from the brigade commander on down" at the
Abu Ghraib facilitated the abuse by US guards who had been left
without discipline, training or supervision.
"At the end of the day, a few soldiers and civilians conspired to
abuse and conduct egregious acts of violence against detainees and
other civilians outside the bounds of international law and the
Geneva Convention," Taguba said.
Bush has strongly backed his embattled Defence Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld amid calls for his resignation over the Abu Ghraib
British troops, who control southern Iraq, were criticised in a new
report by Amnesty International which accused them of shooting
civilians where there was no apparent threat, including an
eight-year-old girl who was fatally wounded.
Violence continued here less than two months before the planned
return of Iraqi self-rule as US forces stepped up the pressure on
Sadr, who is holed up inside Najaf where he is wanted over the
murder of a rival cleric last year.
A senior State Department official identified the slain American in
the video as Nicholas Berg, a businessman from Pennsylvania who had
been missing in Iraq since mid-April.
Berg was decapitated with a large knife, according to US networks
which did not show his death but described it as horrific.
Berg's body was found by the side of a road near Baghdad at the
The tape on the Islamic militant web site with links to al-Qaeda
was reportedly titled "Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi slaughtering an
American", referring to the wanted al-Qaeda agent.
The death of the US soldier in Al-Anbar province raises the death
toll of American soldiers since the US-led invasion of Iraq in
March last year to 775, according to Pentagon figures.
The first Dutch soldier of the country's 1 260-strong contingent
died of his wounds from a grenade attack in the southern town of
Samawa. - Sapa-AFP